MPR: Share Your Story Collection: Kirby Puckett March 2006
Minnesota Public Radio asked audiences about their experiences and memories of Kirby Puckett, former Minnesota Twins centerfielder and Baseball Hall of Famer. These are some of the responses. Share your story, too.
My memory is basic, but shared with many. I was 10 years old on that school night my parents let me stay up late to watch game 6 go into the late innings.
To this day, when I see the footage of Kirby's catch against the glass...it looks unreal. It was unreal when I was 10, only a super hero could jump that high. Then in the bottom of the 11th it happened, the dream of every little league player, Kirby connected with a ball that I never saw land because at the moment of impact I jumped up and screamed...we all knew it would make it over the glass. Watching replays of Kirby pumping his fist around those bases still brings tear to my eyes at the age of 24.
He wasn't a perfect person, no hero is. Heroes have conflict, they make mistakes, they are just like you and I...but they rise above and turn dreams into reality. On October 26, 1991 that's what Kirby did, he proved to everyone watching..."you can live the dream".
And by the way, that next summer in little league...I hit my first home run, 190 ft over the linked chain in left field. The roar from family and teammates wasn't like having the whole world watching, but I still got to pump my fist around the bases. Thanks Kirby.
Coon Rapids, MN
I was just another kid, standing outside the Metrodome after a game. To tell the truth, I think that we lost but I can't remember for sure. Not knowing when he was going to come out, we stood there and waited and waited some more, having most of the other players on the team coming out the door before he did. Even though he was with his wife, he stood and signed all of our cards or gloves or whatever we had.
It was a highlight of a childhood of the late 80's and listening and watching the Twins. Even though he's gone, "Touch 'em all Kirby Puckett" still holds much weight.
St. Paul, MN
My favorite memory of Kirby took place in 1984. My wife and I attended an early season game at County Stadium in Milwaukee. It was one of those spring games like at Metropolitan Stadium. If you sat up under the overhang, as we did, you were cold, but if you sat in the sun, like the lower deck seats near the dugouts were, it was a warm day. After a couple of innings of shivering, we decided to move down by the Twins dugout. We found two seats about six rows back next to an older woman and a younger woman. We thought we'd be the only ones cheering for the Twins, but we were wrong. These women were cheering for the Twins, too.
We soon found out that they were especially interested in the new Twins center fielder playing in only his second series since being called up from the minors.
He had just finished playing his first major league series against California in LA. He had not yet played in Minnesota. The women were the mother and sister of the new outfielder, Kirby Puckett, and were seeing him play in the majors for the first time. Naturally they were thrilled, and were as outgoing as we would later find out Kirby to be. They would cheer wildly for him, and call to him every time he came to the dugout. As we talked to two of them, we adopted their enthusiasm and cheered extra hard for this new Twin. We were the only Twins fans in a sea of Brewer fans. Kirby would wave to the four of us as we called out to him when he came to the dugout. Pretty soon, a wonderful thing happened. The family's enthusiasm, coupled with Kirby's friendliness and acknowledgement of the cheers from the crowd began to win the section over. We would cheer for the Twins...the others in the section would cheer for the Brewers. As the game progressed, however, whenever Kirby came up, our section was magically transformed. Everyone would cheer for Kirby. This new Twin and his family had won a whole section of fans over to root for him in less than one game. We enjoyed it. The Brewers fans enjoyed it. And baseball became the competitive but friendly game it should be.
I'll never forget it.
St. Paul, MN
During the Fall of 1987 I was one of the thousands of fans who had the privilege of cheering on our Twins to their first World Series Championship in person...no one waved their Homer Hanky with more gusto, no one cheered louder than I did.
Fast forward to January 1988 - I was working as a retail clerk in the hardware department of Sears in Brookdale Mall. It was about 2 p.m. and snowing heavily outside. I was stuck at the central check out area trying not to look bored or fall asleep when I noticed the front door open and in strode a short, stocky man carrying a chunk of weather stripping in his mittened hand.
I took a look at him trying to figure out why ANYONE would venture out on such a crappy day...he WAS dressed for the weather: Sorels, "Floyd Turbo" hat, parka, thick pants, scarf, mittens...
As he approached I noticed that he looked familiar...REALLY familiar...it was Kirby Freakin' Puckett!
I felt a numbness wash over me and stammered, "Good afternoon Mr. Puckett, what can I do for you". "Hey man..." He said as he held up the weatherstripping, "This thing came off my door and I'd like to get some more."
I mentioned that I actually worked in the Hardware Department and pointed him in the direction of the Door Department (about 30 feet from me). I watched as he explained his weatherstripping issue with a couple clerks and when the clerks scurried off to presumably rip some weatherstripping off some new doors to give to our Baseball Hero, he came back over to where I was standing. I didn't know what to say...I was still numb - 4 feet away was one of the guys who made the Twins the World Series Champions. I watched them ALL season...watched them beat the Tigers in the LCS... watched them beat the Cardinals in the World Series and I just HAD to say SOMETHING to him. "Um, nice Series...I was there when you guys won."
"Yeah...thanks man. It sure was fun."
I stood and watched as he looked over the routers and circular saws. I watched as he looked over the Craftsman Screwdrivers. I just stared at him, still numb...I had to say something more than "Nice Series"...and knew my time was running out so I blurted out perhaps the most asinine thing I have EVER said, and perhaps the oddest thing he had ever heard from a fan.
It was so bad that as the words were coming out of my mouth, I realized how asinine it sounded, but I just couldn't help myself...it was akin to watching a train wreck in slow motion...
"I named my cat after you..."
He took a second and just stared at me...I'm not sure if he was trying to figure out if what he just heard was actually what I just said, or just imagined it...when it registered in his brain that I actually said what I said he just muttered, "Um, yeah." and walked back over to the Door Department.
Kirby Puckett was my first childhood hero.
Collecting baseball cards as a child, I had (and still have) nearly 50 cards, most of them different years and brands with a couple rookie cards.
My uncles took me to Game 1 of the '91 World Series. We had amazing seats in the lower deck along the first base line of the HHH Metrodome. It was an exciting time to grow up as an avid fan. For both the '87 and '91 World Series, I remember the adrenaline I got by watching the Twins (and #34) on our hide-a-bed in the basement.
My wife Carrie used to cook for Carl and Eloise Pohlad. She hadn't worked for them for a couple of years, and during those nail-biting weeks when Twins fans wondered and hoped that Kirby could be lured back to the team, Carl and Eloise asked Carrie to come over and cook a meal for them and Kirby, perhaps knowing that in baseball as in romance a way to a man's heart is through his stomach.
It was a soul-food masterpiece, ribs, cornbread, greens, pie, and four or five other entrees I can't remember. I don't have a recording of Kirby's comments, but it was something to the effect of "How can I say goodbye to all this".
Anyway, he was back on the team a week later, and I'd like to think that Carrie's cooking had something to do with it. For a little Norwegian gal who grew up on anything but soul food, it was quite a feat, and she certainly could have used the event as some sort of "feather in her cap", but she didn't, exhibiting a lot of loyalty to the Pohlad family.
We're out in Maine now, and we miss the Twins, the voice of Herb Carneal, and now we'll miss Kirby too.
I grew up watching Kirby play baseball. To me, and many my age, Kirby was Mr. Baseball! He was truly a hero and role model to many. He is the ideal role model, and he inspired many people.
It is a shame that allegations and media hype smudged his image. Maybe there was a darker side to Kirby Puckett, but who doesn't have a darker side, and did we really need to know about it if he did? What good did taking his private life and making it public do? Then add on the false gold digging allegations from others, and the next thing you knew we had the media and every other busy body in the state jumping on the anti-Puckett bandwagon just to feel better about themselves. It is sad how quickly we forgot about our loyal hero, and how quick many people, namely the media, were so quick abandon him. Fortunately to many, it did not tarnish his image with the true fans. Unfortunately, I think it hurt him deeply, and he probably never got over it.
With that said, I have several memories of Kirby Puckett. What MN youth didn't say they were going to be Kirby Puckett when playing sandlot baseball? I remember the McDonalds Puck-Pack and the Kirby Puckett candy bar. I remember looking at every toy store for the Kirby Puckett Starting Line-Up figure, and the joy I felt when I finally found one.
When I was about 8, I remember waiting in line at Biz-Bang days in Robbinsdale center to get my first Kirby Puckett autograph with my grandmother. He signed so many autographs for his fans that his agents tried to make him stop; but even then he still signed well past the time he was supposed to leave.
I made a very large sign the night before that read, "Hey Kirby, you're #1!" We waited for him to drive by, and he saw it and beeped the horn of his gold Mercedes with the license plate "Puck 34.," and waived. Now to an 8 year old, that was unforgettable!
One very important thing that we should all remember is that Kirby was offered more money to play elsewhere, and Kirby proudly said that he would always be a Minnesota Twin. He was loyal, dedicated and did not play for himself or for the money. How many "professional" athletes can say that in any sport!
St. Paul, MN
This story goes to the heart of what Kirby Puckett put into baseball.
It was a 2 game exhibition against the Cubs, just before the Season opener. The game meant nothing and few players would put any effort into it except Kirby. I was sitting with my dad on the 3rd baseline. With no outs and a man on second, the Cubs hit a deep fly ball to center field. Kirby caught it but to put the man out at home was difficult at best if not impossible. But Kirby did it and he didn't hit the cut off man. He threw it with one hop it to the catcher, who tag the Cub out at home. 2 Outs & no runs scored! Probably a 400 foot throw! And he did this twice in the game. My Dad and I were impressed.
You don't see that kind of passion from experienced pro in a game like this. Thanks Kirby!
Kirby Puckett and I were best friends while growing up together in a small town in west central Minnesota called Pelican Rapids. He was with me all the time as a kid. In the morning as I gulped down my Cheerios, I would scan the Twin's box score in the Strib to see how Kirby did the night before even though I already knew. Kirby was with me in the afternoons during science class while I stared at the backs of his baseball cards memorizing every statistic I could.
Kirby was with me when I went to bed while I listened to Herb Carneal describe Kirby lining one into center field for game winning RBI.
After I graduated from high school, Kirby followed me to the University of Minnesota at Morris, where I watched him win the 1987 World Series from my dorm room. When I finished college, Kirby followed me to my first job at ADC in Bloomington where we first met.
It was a couple of days after the Twins won '91 series when the Twins held their celebration-parade in downtown Minneapolis on Hennepin Avenue. I decided to play hooky from work that afternoon to go see the parade. After finding a good spot on the parade route near the Basilica, his convertible finally approached as everyone was shouting Kirby, Kirby, Kirby. He was perched up on the rear seat waving to everyone and wearing a big smile along with a brown pilot's cap and trench coat. The cap was like the one Snoopy wore when he pretended to be a WWI Flying Ace with flaps hanging down each side of his head and goggles propped up over his eyes. It was the perfect outfit on that chilly and misty October afternoon.
When his car was directly in front of me, I jumped out of the crowd and ran up to him. He seemed to immediately recognize me as our hands reached out at the same time to give each other a high five. I looked at him straight in the eye and said "Thank you Kirby". He smiled, laughed, and said "Your welcome, man".
I had graduated high school the previous June and had moved on to other interests and pastimes, namely music. However, the fall of '91 had stirred the latent passions of the little leaguer and card collector within me.
I was watching Game 6 with a couple of friends and we were frettin' and sweatin' through another close game. We happened to be watching the game at the home of a friend who didn't give a damn about sports - hometeam in the World Series or not. He wanted to leave, but we had the car. We wanted to watch the game, but he had the TV. So if he had to stay, he decided to unleash every verbal jab and sarcastic remark in his arsenal. He did his best MST3K commentary through the whole game. Suffice to say it was a long 9 innings. As on-field (and off-field) tensions mounted and the game went to the 11th, my friend threatened to pull the plug and turn the station with each pitch.
"Nooooooooo!" we cried. We were like hostages.
"Stop yer bellyachin'!" my friend spat back as Puckett came to the plate. "Puckett's gonna hit a home run anyway. Geez!"
Sure enough. The next pitch he did just that. The fact that Kirby could make a jaded, cynical, anti-sports guy like my friend believe and have faith while the rest of us wavered, even doubted, says so much...I'll never forget that day. And I'll never forget Kirby Puckett.
St. Paul, MN
My two daughters were born in '72 and '76. That made them 15 and 11 during the Series in 1987, and 19 and 16 during the series in 1991. As I am sure many men know, forging a relationship with teenage and adolescent daughters is not always easy, but Kirby Puckett and the MN Twins made such a relationship possible.
During those seasons I was able to bond with my daughters in a fashion that has served us very well into their thirties, even though one of them lives way over in China now. I attended all but one home game in all the series in '87 and '91 and took one of my daughters with me for many of the games, and their Mom for the rest. I will never forget the night of game 7, 1987 celebrating on Hennepin Avenue with my oldest daughter. In the words of the commercial......priceless.
Thanks to Kirby for "driving the bus" for myself and many other dads and daughters who were given a reason to share something special.
My sister and I attended our one and only Minnesota Twins game when we were about 13 years old. We were standing above the dugout waiting for a player to wave or throw a ball up. There were dozens of young boys around us vying for a chance to get a souvenir.
Kirby Puckett, one of the few players I actually knew and recognized, came out with a ball. He looked up at us and said, "This one is for the ladies!" He threw the ball up and my sister caught it and he gave us a big wink.
The memory of Kirby Puckett will always hold a very special place in my heart.
The first memory that I have of Kirby Puckett is when I went to my first Twins game. I remember Bob Casey announcing Kirby's name. That will always be with me.
I also remember asking my Dad when I was 10 to stay up late so I could watch Kirby Puckett win a World Series. He was a great man.
Spring 1991 my family and I were in Ft. Meyers Florida and we went to a Twins practice. My memories of that day and looking back at the pictures makes me smile. The smiling face and laughing of Kirby as he and Kent Hrbek doing sprints in the heat and sweating but the two of them laughing and I was laughing seeing Kirby's short body keeping up with Kent and his long legs the two of the side by side and smiling.
But what stuck with me most is after practice we had hoped to get him to sign a baseball we want to give my brother-in-law for a birthday gift since he was a huge fan. After being out in the heat for hours and I am sure tired and all the other players had gone in he stayed out till he was sure everyone had gotten a signature and was happy and he did it with that wonderful smile and he was enjoying it. This is what I'll will remember most about Kirby Puckett.
My mom, who has now died, was a huge baseball fan all her life and loved Kirby Puckett. One day when she was about 85 we were grocery shopping and saw him in the store. My mother was a very friendly outgoing person. I would never have spoken to him, but of course she ran her cart right into Kirby's to get his attention. He was so good to her! Funny, polite and completely happy to be bothered at the store by an old lady who loved him. He joked and flirted a little, and absolutely made her day. She talked about it until she died. He was a true gentleman.
That's how I'll always remember Kirby - a classy fellow.
North Oaks, MN
Most ballplayers would never come out a main gate after a game and mingle with fans. But Kirby Puckett did,at least a few times.
One time in particular has stayed in my memory. Some little kid was at his feet hoping to get his attention and he picked him up, smiled at him and talked with him. I hope there are photos of that in someone's possession...I think it was on TV, too.
It's a terrible thing that he suffered that stroke and died. He was really one of the Good Guys.
Sweetpea... Gator... Puck... Kirby...
I ran into Kirby frequently outside the game in normal situations and he was a regular guy but full of joy.
What people remember most about Kirby Puckett is the undeniable determination and achievement with the little he was given. Whether it was growing up in poverty, a compromised physique (compared to the magnificent Winfield or "made-for-baseball" Molitor) or a high outside pitch when he wanted to get the ball in play, Kirby had to make due. Oh how he did.
You wanted kids to see Kirby play because he always rose to the occasion far beyond his god-given limits and loved every moment he was in the game. The way Kirby played the game of baseball is how people should engage themselves in life.
Baseball will never see anything like Puckett again. We knew that, sitting behind him in the bleachers in center field before MVP, before game six, and before Cooperstown, Kirby carried legendary in his heart.
We all miss Kirby terribly. Our hearts go out to his children.
I was young when the Twins went to the World Series in 87 and 91, but I will never forget the excitement I felt when watching the games with my parents. I remember it vividly. For reasons I cannot explain, Kirby was my favorite. He had a great smile, he was kind of silly sometimes, he was intense, and he hit those homeruns over and over! Always when we needed it most. He is my all time favorite ball player. He somehow made baseball exciting to me (a non sporting type) - and it has never been the same since he left the team.
Another little tidbit about how Kirby touched my life, is that he shopped at the same grocery store as my Grandfather. One Sunday afternoon, my Grandfather stopped Kirby in an aisle to say hello, and introduced himself. He told Kirby he was a retired eye doctor. Kirby was very friendly and from then on when they ran into each other in the grocery store Kirby would say "Hiya doc!". I was very impressed, he was kind to his fans and he didn't fake it.
So there you go, my little tidbits about Kirby. I will never be as big a fan of any other ball player for the rest of my life - and yet, I can't really explain why except to say, he was awesome.
Back in '88/'89 I was an assistant manager of the specialty cleaning crew assigned to cleaning & detailing out the suites/ press boxes / Twins Offices/ Rally Room/ all Locker rooms and a few other responsibilities!
One day, after a real looong night of cleaning we (my manager & I) took a moment (it was mid-day by this time) to walk down to the field where some of the Twins were doing some warm-ups and (since I nearly always had a used Game-Ball with me) I sidled up to Jeff Reardon and he agreed to sign my ball. Up walks Kirby and tells us we really should not be down to the field area! He was probably right, although we had express permission to enter all areas, we probably should not do anything to make the players lose their concentration! So we apologised for interrupting the practice session and Kirby said, "Ya got a ball?" Yes, sir! So he signed it and really made my day! I'm pretty sure he even shook my hand!
It was a proud moment in my life.
I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba and have been a life long Twins fan. Here is a true story:
On the eve of Game 6 1991 a long time friend asked me out for a drink. I agreed on the condition we went to a bar with some coverage of the World Series. We wound up at a place with 2 TV sets and an atmosphere of a meat market....it did not look like a baseball crowd at all, with loud pounding music. The game started and with a sense of what was to come the music volume diminished and the TV sound was increased. I remind the reader that the crowd was a mix of 20somethings that looked like they wanted to 'get it on' and had no interest in baseball whatsoever.
Soon, everyone in the place was caught up in the excitement and the TVs were turned up full blast and the music was shut down. Everyone in the place was yelling and screaming at each play. I can't describe the bedlam that ensued in the late innings of that wonderful game. The bar management thoughtfully did't bother to collect on the liquor tabs as we all cheered madly at the climactic finish. We all were cheering "Kirby.. Kirby..Kirby"....I can only imagine what was happening in the heartland of the U.S.